Contemporary Nonduality, as I encountered it during my spiritual Journey, only rarely mentions Bliss; often only in precautionary terms in the context of sadhana, and usually only fleetingly, if at all, when describing the Liberated experience of being. I am familiar with the advaitic pedagogical model, and understand that advaita teachers don't want their students to become attached to transient “states” or “objects” of perception, but rather to feel themselves as That within which all objects, sensations, perceptions, and states arise and vanish. Thus, for advaita students, “Bliss” is often portrayed as a dangerous trap, something to be dismissed as transient, ephemeral, “unreal”, and not to be confused with the unmoving, changeless Absolute, the experience of which is generally described with words like Peace, Happiness, and Joy – words which, in my experience, are wholly inadequate in describing the Unalloyed, Rapturous Ecstasy of Pure Awareness.
The lack of descriptions of Bliss in the post-Liberation experience of advaitic realization is probably due to the notion that once one is Free, one will know for one's self the nature of that condition, and therefore there's no need to elevate what they see as dangerous and alluring “distractions” for those still seeking. Thus, there is rarely a fleeting mention of Bliss; and generally… Ecstasy is right out.
All of that being the case, my experience when I saw my advaita teacher, Jean Klein, was filled with Bliss; a palpable, visceral, extremely pleasurable yet unlocatable Ecstasy that both permeated and was inseparable from the entire Experience of Being. It was, for lack of any better term in relativity, a feeling of Orgasmic Ecstasy that, being “everywhere, yet nowhere”, transcended physicality or any of the other vast and varied aspects of manifest form, and yet… everything existed both “in” and “as” it. For me, the impact of residing in and as the Silence that Jean spoke of was the flooding of the Experience of Being with this Blissfulness I'm struggling to describe. But any mention of this would have been blasphemous, such things being “not spoken of.”
More than all of his words, more than my own clarity of understanding… something about being in proximity to Jean's physical-energetic locus had this profound effect on me. Many advaitans go off the deep end if you mention such “phenomenality”. But this was my experience. The most “profound” teaching I received, the Transmission of the Flame, was wordless, and had everything to do with my Mystical relationship to this man, and yes… to association and even proximity; though merely the thought of him would give rise to the welling up of Bliss.
Bliss was, for me, unmistakably, a touch of Union (described below), of formless Pure Being, Shining into manifest experience; water from that Ocean, warmth from that Sun, the Fragrance of what the Sufis call The Beloved, the Ananda of Sat·chit·ananda. How can formlessness possibly Shine into form? Volumes of words would fail to communicate what can only be known in Experience. As Jean would often say, “Now we will talk about that which cannot be talked about.” We talked… but it was not the words which conveyed That which was being spoken of, the Flame in his Heart igniting the ember in mine. Sounds quite dualistic, doesn't it? However dualistic it may sound, I assure you it was not. This is the Ineffable nature of “true” Guru Yoga.
I already knew not to grasp after this Bliss, seeking to sustain and hold it as a “pleasurable experience”. I had been given this Great Teaching, paradoxically, by Bliss itself. For Bliss only arose when the acute “outer” focus of Attention relaxed “inward”, dissolving into its Oceanic nature as Unlocatable Aliveness. Then Attention, in that instant of inward-turning, was greeted by effortlessly-arising Bliss. Shakti (manifestation) fell into the arms of Shiva (formless Pure Being), and the Ecstasy of their embrace became an inherent aspect of the Experience of Being, like wetness to water, or heat to fire. I did not see the inward turning and the upwelling of Bliss as cause and effect – a stance that put me somewhat at odds with Jean's pedagogical stance – but rather as inherent aspects of Dissolution. For if Dissolution became Absolute, this “alloyed” Bliss would become the Unalloyed Ecstasy of nirvikalpa; the direct experience of formless Pure Being. If Attention grasped after the somatic “experience” of Blissfulness, as it reflexively did, early on… the movement into Dissolution ceased, and Bliss vanished.
My experience is that Bliss is the very fragrance of Pure Being (Consciousness, Awareness, whatever one calls the Unlocatable Aliveness that we are, prior to manifestation). Prior to Liberation, it was the fragrance that drew me to The Beloved, that taught me the “secret” of non-grasping, and abiding as Unlocatable Aliveness. It is the embrace of Shiva and Shakti in union as Shiva-Shakti, a union in which both vanish, all duality vanishes, even, quite impossibly, in the midst of duality.
Here's the story of my first meeting with Jean Klein.
In November of ‘81, using feeling inquiry (before I knew what advaitic inquiry was), “I” died in Union.
No space in which objects could arise
(including the “object” of myself as the perceiver).
No time allowing objects to be perceived or cognized.
The vanishing of… everything.
The Unalloyed Ecstasy of Pure Being.
Even to say that Consciousness was aware of Itself is not wholly accurate, for there was no “perceiver/subject” Consciousness aware of a “perceived/object” Consciousness. Perhaps you could say there was Perceiving without a perceiver, Being without a Be'er… but let's not wander any further into the jungle of words, concepts, and pointers.
Alas, when space, time, and manifestation arose again from Pure Being, when Shiva moved as Shakti, “I” (self-identity, Chuck-I) arose with it, a contraction, and the suffering of identification with the body-mind and all that that entails. In the end, Union proved only informative. It informed me of my nature prior to the arising of… everything, including “me”. For although “I” as a separate object did not exist in Pure Being… I was what remained when everything vanished. In Union, “I” was not “that which is alive”, but rather, “Life itself.” I remember seeing, as manifestation eventually returned within Emptiness, that it was the most obvious thing in the world that I was neither this nor that, but that I simply… Was. I was Not an object or a thing, not the aggragates of thought, feeling, and emotion that I had always taken myself to be. The last words uttered by the mind before all things vanished was a startled recognition and exclamation - not merely mental, but with the Whole Being — “I… just… Am!” Poof!
As an inevitable consequence of Chuck-“I” returning, the experience of Pure Being almost instantly became a memory, a concept. Except… now I Knew that self-identified Chuck existed both in and as Pure Being in Manifestation. This was now irrefutable. But as life-changing as this trans-intellectual understanding was, it did not stop the contraction and suffering of self-identity. I had emerged from Pure Being only more “informed” than I had been prior.
Except for one thing…
The next day, while driving, I “remembered” what had happened. And before the mind could utter a word as part of this remembering, before mental constructs arose, in a timeless instant, my Heart exploded in Ecstasy. This Bliss was immediately recognizable as the taste, the fragrance of Pure Being, and gave rise to a sense of the same Fullness and Completion I had become in samadhi, only now modified by it's arising in space, time, and form. This Bliss was somehow both in form, and beyond. For while the physical and energetic bodies were washed over in Bliss, the mind, cognition, and the world, all began to dissolve back, back into Ecstasy. It was as if samadhi was pulling on my attention, trying to dissolve me once again into itself. The Radiance of Pure Being was shining through into manifestation. The boundary had been destroyed. But… because of the contraction of self-identity, this experience became just that, an “experience”, with an experiencer, immediately qualified and conditioned by the mind, by Chuck-I. But the fragrance was undeniable, arising from a bodily location near my physical Heart. The rapture was so overwhelming and my mind so dissolute and intoxicated that I nearly pulled the car over.
From that day forward, although my mind might be focused on a task at work, “behind” all movement, all activity, this Blissfulness was ever present, always ebbing and flowing to some extent, always moving like the waters of a deep Ocean; sometimes a soft ambience, other times a powerful flood, swallowing all mentation and sense of externality, pulling attention out of space and time, back, back, into the Ocean of Being. When I paused outer activity, and “fell back in relaxed alertness”, so to speak… I would be overwhelmed with breathtaking Bliss, and the acuity of perception and cognition would dissolve into Stillness. Although I never again experienced samadhi, I was thereafter “wet” with the water of that Ocean, always fragrant with the perfume of the Timeless, always warmed by that “apparently” distant Fire. But still, in the midst of all of this, self-identity persisted.
It would also happen that I might be sitting, watching television — often the most inane show you could imagine — and suddenly the entire Field of perception would dissolve in the most exquisitely beautiful translucent light, as if everything had become molten. All objects dissolved into each other, and then the mind would follow, and my sense of being a locatable object in space and time, and I would feel a dissolving, a pulling, back, back into Timeless Presence.
Always, enjoying the Perfume of the Beloved,
Even with eyes open, here, in the world of form.
Even with Attention moving, here and there,
In “mundane” activity.
The Ordinary, Extraordinary.
The Extraordinary… Ordinary.
We are always, ever, Touching,
And I am always intoxicated by the unseen allure
Of the Absolute Death into Ecstasy that She is.
When Attention rests, She is there,
Tugging at my Heart,
Turning my face to Hers.
Here in the world of form,
She exists in me, as me.
Here in Pure Being,
Neither She, I, nor “we”
Have ever existed.
I did not take this Radiance, ever, to be “shakti”, or “kundalini”, or any such thing. Such terms seemed profane to me. For this Beautiful Radiance was not a ”thing”, not an object of enjoyment. I Knew from samadhi that it was simply the Radiance of Pure Being, somehow, magically, wonderfully, impossibly, shining into this world of form, into and as myself; always present, always available to be remembered or be remembered by, in a timeless instant. As Jean said, we begin soliciting that which we long for, but soon find ourselves being solicited, as well. It was a dance of the Unmanifest in Manifestation, Shiva dancing with, and as, this Radiance.
But again, all of that lofty verbiage aside, all Bliss aside, all Ecstasy aside, all Pure Being aside, aspects of my manifest form, within the Aliveness that I am, remained in the horrible contraction and suffering of self-identity.
I had read Jean's book, Neither This Nor That, I Am!, and found in it a mirror of the enquiry that had led me to samadhi; a “feeling” enquiry, not a thinking enquiry. One day in 1983, two years after samadhi, a friend told me that Jean would be giving a satsang in LA, and I was very much inspired to see him. It would be my first time seeing an advaita teacher. My friend, widely read and much more experienced than I in the nature of the various spiritual paths, stressed that there would be none of this gold light business, no discussion of phenomenon or experience, almost certainly no talk of Bliss, and forget samadhi (which advaita often deemed “a mere sweet”, and a dangerous one at that). He warned that with these things so much a part of my experience of being, I might find advaita somewhat mental and dry.
I found a seat at Jean's satsang and, waiting for him to arrive, noted that the Radiance of my Heart was welling up with uncommon intensity, even before he arrived. Jean arrived; a small, older, somewhat frail man. He sat in silence for quite some time. And as I sat there, I was taken by a veritable tsunami of Ecstasy. I couldn't think, I couldn't move; I was in rapture. I felt my Heart would explode in Ecstasy. And because I kept my eyes open as we sat there, everything in my field of vision vanished completely in that exquisite, translucent illumination that I'd become so familiar with. Mind and cognition dissolved into Ecstasy, too intoxicated to function. I could see only one thing in this field of light in which everything else had dissolved: Jean, sitting in Silence. But all around him, nothing but blinding luminous Radiance.
Eventually, Jean spoke briefly about advaita, then asked for questions. After listening to a few questions and answers, I could no longer hold the frustration that had become the heart of my sadhana. I raised my hand and was recognized by Jean. Expressing frustration and despair, not intending to sound rude or hostile, but unable to help myself, I said, “So, we're just supposed to inquire in this manner, and keep inquiring, and keep inquiring, and keep inquiring, and keep inquiring, and keep inquiring, until one day, maybe, maybe — but don't count on it, because only a handful ever attain the goal — maybe one day Grace will fall on us?!” He sat for a moment… and then, turning to face me more directly, leaned quite forward in his chair, and held his right arm out, low by his knees. He then brought his arm up quickly, in a shot, saying as he did so, “It's in the instant before (emphasized) the upsurge!” He held his arm in that higher position for some time, looking directly at me, and then, very slowly, sat back, saying, “In time, the Lover and the Beloved will become one.” And then, leaning forward again and pointing emphatically, he said, assertively, “Count on it!”
The upsurge? The upsurge?! How did he know?! This was an advaitin, not some siddhi-imbued mystic dealing with phenomenality. How could he know?! We'd never met before. And advaitins didn't talk about “the upsurge”, or so I'd been told. But Jean knew, having never met me before in this life!
In the years that followed, he clarified further that according to the advaitic view that he held and taught, this Bliss that had become an inherent aspect of my experience of being was an “effect”, not the cause. And I, too, held that view for quite some time, for it was true that Bliss arose in the instant of remembering, the instant before its explosion in my Heart, when Attention ceased all “outer” focus, and relaxed back, fell back into Itself, so to speak.
As time passed, however, even while still seeing Jean, I found myself uneasy with the advaitic stance. For in my experience, over time, I came to see the arising of Bliss not simply as an “effect” of inward turning, but rather as inherent in, and inseparable from, the inward turning of Attention, just as Unalloyed Ecstasy is inherent in Union, in which there are no causes and effects. In my experience – which, granted, is not akin to that of most of my advaitan friends – Bliss was to inward turning as heat is to fire, wetness to water, or glistening to gold. The 13th Century saint, Jnaneshwar, speaks to this stance so beautifully (see The Advaitic Trap). This seemingly subtle difference in relationship to formlessness (Shiva) and form (Shakti), the unmanifest and manifest, is far more profound than meets the eye. It points to the differing stances of advaita and Kashmir Shaivism, with which my Heart came to more fully resonate.
In any case, it didn't matter. I simply Loved Jean, and went to see him whenever I could, for the most blasphemously unadvaitic reasons.
Jean's teachings were not purely advaitic, and his stature is diminished in the eyes of certain orthodox advaitans. He had been influenced at some point by Kashmir Shaivism, and aspects of that tradition were mixed into his stance and teachings; a stew that also included certain aspects of orthodox advaita. For example, Jean's saying that satsang and all that it entailed – all of the questions, answers, and dialog – was merely a pretext for sitting together in Silence – my God… this was seen as blasphemous guru yoga by many staunch advaitans. But as I've stated, this was at the very Heart of our relationship; all else was indeed a pretext. Jean also expressed the Kashmir Shaivite stance somewhat in his unique style of yoga which. again, more orthodox advaitans no doubt considered blasphemous.
From that first meeting with Jean, until his death, I saw him whenever I could. Our relationship, outwardly, adhered to the advaitic protocol; but inwardly, existed more as one would expect of Kashmir Shaivism. I never mentioned Bliss, or the translucent Radiance that filled the room when we were together. Mentioning such things would have gotten me a chiding from Jean. And so, I was both in disagreement with aspects of his advaitic stance, and in absolute agreement and affinity with the nature of our Mystical inner relationship. I continued seeing him not because of his advaitic teaching, but because of the Experience that arose Mystically in his presence; the direct experience of “That” which was being discussed in words; an experience in which the experiencer vanished, and the Unalloyed Ecstasy of nirvikalpa shone, alloyed, into the experience of manifest Being.
He never once, in all those years, directly answered a question I would ask — a question that had arisen in the immediate context of the satsang. Never once in all those years. He always, instead, answered the more secret, private questions that had been arising in my Heart and mind in the days or weeks prior to seeing him; questions around the relationship of Heart-Bliss to Pure Being, and around why, why, why, I remained self-identified. And while my advaitan friends will poo-poo my mentioning it… every time I saw Jean, there was the phenomenon of that radiant, translucent light, and dissolution in Bliss. Proximity to his physical form always gave rise to an intensification of Dissolution.
I'm a sad excuse for an advaitan.
The entire time I saw my teacher, Jean,
I went not to gain “understanding”,
Or to follow, yet again, the tired "advaitic thread".
I went to bathe in the Radiance
That emanated from that form.
Yes… from that form.
A shameless dualist?
For somehow, impossibly,
Formlessness shone from that form,
And dissolved all that it touched, back into Itself,
Before he even entered the room,
The world dissolved... “I” dissolved,
And all questions vanished.
A shameless “experience” junkie?
For the experience,
Was of the experiencer vanishing,
Into That which was being discussed.
Not in concepts,
The words were a pretext.
The questions a pretext.
The answers a pretext,
For our simply sitting together, bathing in…
Seeing Jean caused the Sun of my Heart to shine more brightly.
And dipped the salt doll of my “self” once again into the Ocean.
From which emerged, eventually...
Only a handful of Ocean.
It did not happen through knowledge,
Or seeing clearly,
Or grasping anything.
It happened through Grace.
The emanation of Shiva in and as Shakti.
Dissolving the contraction of self-identity,
Only then, looking back,
Did I Understand all that I had heard,
In word, concept, and metaphor,
And knowledge became Knowledge.
But make no mistake…
I went for the translucent Light that filled the room,
And my Entire Being.
Shameless, I know.
I went for the dissipation of endless mentation,
Into Serenity and Peace.
Shameful, I know.
I went for the dissolution of acute Attention,
Into Unlocatable Aliveness.
How could I?!
I went for the Bliss of Pure Being,
Pouring into manifestation,
Overflowing the Wellspring of my Heart,
From that gentle, frail form… Myself.
Ponder this great mystery, my nondual friends.
For this benediction happened in physical proximity to,
In thoughtful remembrance of,
In heartfelt relationship with,
That gentle, frail form… Myself.
That's right… form.
For truly… truly,
Form is Formlessness,
Formlessness is Form.
Shiva is Shakti,
Nirvana and samsara are One.
Those are not empty platitudes,
But the Living Teaching I received,
In and as that gentle, frail Form…
I'm a sad excuse for an advaitan.
Throughout all those years of satsang and reading and inquiry, however, no amount of bliss, no amount of mental clarity, no amount of remembering the source of Bliss, no amount of feeling myself as That within which all arises, no amount of feeling myself “behind”, no amount of resting in relaxed alertness brought about the cessation of the contraction of self-identity, of Chuck-I. Until… twenty years after meeting Jean, and some time after his passing, I sat up in bed one day and realized, in the most uneventful way, as if recognizing “after the fact” something that had already been the case but had somehow gone unnoticed, that I could not feel “myself” anymore.
The Ancient Contraction was gone. The Great Suffering was gone. “I” was gone. I did not feel myself expanded as all that existed, nor did I feel myself as “That” within which all arose, I did not feel myself… at all. There was simply… This; the Experience of Being. I was no longer That which was alive, but rather, Life Itself, but now with eyes open, not vanished in samadhi. There was no longer any sense of interior or exterior; no inner subject perceiver perceiving exterior objects. Space and time became purely notional, for everything was simply Present, All At Once, with no felt sense of distance or proximity in relation to That within which and as which it all arose. For “i” had ceased to exist, and only Unlocatable Aliveness remained. I did not even sense a “Now” in which Existence Was. There was simply… This. Only in mentation do such additional “concepts” as space, time, and objects arise.
After this “Liberation” from the Great Suffering, and for nearly two years following, the Bliss that had been an effortless aspect of the Experience of Being since samadhi, lost its sense of locatability in the Locus of The Heart and seemingly dispersed everywhere, into everything; a soft, gentle, ever-present ambience. I lived those years in Serene Emptiness; an Emptiness which, although it sounds impossible, grew deeper and deeper, in time becoming almost too much to bear.
At the end of the second year, Ananda rolled like a tide back into the locus of the Heart, overflowed, and… to my bewilderment and delight, was noticed by certain friends, who began telling me that in simple conversation, and especially while meditating together, they felt themselves dissolving into Silence; Dissolution, Peace, and yes, Blissfulness washing over them. And in time, unexpectedly and to my great delight, through simple Friendship, contemplation, and meditation, certain of them came to the effortlessly ever-present experience of Dissolution and Bliss.
I share, in words, all that I have come to in direct experience. For I know that intellectual clarity is important as we wander from the village of the “known” until one day… upon a path grown pathless, Heart and Mind, Heaven and Earth, self and the world, vanish like a mist into and as the Great Mystery.
But make no mistake… as Jean said, it is the Radiance of Formlessness Illumining Form, overflowing from the Wellspring of The Heart, that “magically” Heals, Blesses, Illumines, and Liberates, from the so-called inside, out. All else is a pretext.
Far from the village,
Road vanished into path,
Path vanished into hillside,
Hillside vanished into Vastness,
The Known vanished into Wonder.
I don't consider myself “enlightened” or “awakened”. I leave those lofty terms, and the implied finality and unfortunate elevation of stature that they inevitably invoke, to those who feel themselves worthy of their use. My Experience has shown me that it's unwise at best, and delusional at worst, to ever plant a flag and declare the summit. While there have been profound milestones along The Way, in my experience there is no finality whatsoever to…